Kite sailing - Buggies, raceboats and uphill skiing - Soundings Online

Kite sailing - Buggies, raceboats and uphill skiing

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Written accounts of kites being used as tactical instruments in war date back to 200 B.C. in China. Even earlier, natives in Micronesia might have used primitive kites to carry bait out to sea to attract fish.

Written accounts of kites being used as tactical instruments in war date back to 200 B.C. in China. Even earlier, natives in Micronesia might have used primitive kites to carry bait out to sea to attract fish.

Marco Polo was among the first sailors and explorers to bring tales of kites and some kite specimens back to Europe, where they were admired but not taken seriously for centuries. In the early 1800s George Pocock, an English schoolteacher from Bristol, took a special interest in kites and demonstrated that they could lift considerable loads — including his son and daughter — and carry them over a distance. In 1826 he patented the Charvolant, a kite-powered buggy that could carry three passengers and managed speeds of 20 mph. In a demonstration for King George IV, the Charvolant blew by the London-bound mail coach and later embarked on a 113-mile trip through the British countryside. Pocock published his findings in a book, but commercial success remained elusive.

Some 160 years after later, UpSki Inc. a Colorado-based company, tried to create a new sport of uphill skiing with traction kites, roughly at the same time Corey Roeseler and several others pioneered kite skiing on water. Traversing frozen water, Arctic and Antarctic expeditions have used traction kites to tow sleds.

Read accompanying story: Kite sailing - Go fly a kite

The development of kite power for boats happened in fits and spurts. Thanks to existing drawings and passed-down oral history, it’s believed that ancient Pacific islanders were the first to use kites to tow canoes. In the Western Hemisphere, kite sailing briefly became news in 1903, when Texan cowboy and Wild West showman Sam Cody crossed the English Channel in a canvas canoe pulled by a kite.

In the 1970s and ’80s kite boats were competing for records at Britain’s Weymouth Speed Week (www.speedsailing.com ).

In 1982 Jacobs Ladder, a modified Tornado catamaran pulled by a stack of flexifoil kites, reached an average speed of 25 knots on the 500-meter course, good enough for a world record in the C-Class that stood until 1988.

Outside the realm of speed sailing, Frenchwoman Nicole Van de Kerchove used a selection of kites in 1995 to sail a Jeanneau One Design 24 that had neither rig nor engine across the Atlantic, covering 2,800 miles between the Canary Islands and Guadeloupe in 28 days. After losing the rig during the 2004 Heineken Regatta in St. Maarten, the 50-foot racing trimaran Alacrity used a 1,000-square-foot kite to return to Chesapeake Bay. On this 1,450-mile trip, the kite was flown for roughly 500 miles. And last summer, British adventurer Dom Mee was foiled by heavy weather attempting an eastward Atlantic crossing in a 14-foot kite boat.